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State v. Maestas

Supreme Court of Arizona

May 23, 2018

State of Arizona, Appellee,
Andre Lee Juwaun Maestas, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CR 2014-127252 The Honorable Dean M. Fink, Judge Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division One 242 Ariz. 194 (App. 2017)

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Dominic E. Draye (argued), Solicitor General, Joseph T. Maziarz, Chief Counsel, Criminal Appeals Section, Adele Ponce, Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona

          Thomas W. Dean (argued), Thomas W. Dean Attorney at Law, Phoenix, Attorney for Andre Lee Juwaun Maestas David J. Euchner, Sarah L. Mayhew (argued), Tucson, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice

          Lee Phillips, Law Offices of Lee Phillips PC, Flagstaff, Attorney for Amicus Curiae Students for Sensible Drug Policy


          JUSTICE PELANDER, opinion of the Court:

         ¶1 The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act ("AMMA"), enacted by voters as Proposition 203 in 2010, generally permits qualified AMMA cardholders to possess a limited amount of marijuana and, with certain exceptions and limitations, immunizes their AMMA-compliant possession or use from "arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner." A.R.S. § 36-2811(B). Among its limitations, the AMMA prohibits the possession or use of medical marijuana at certain specified locations. A.R.S. § 36-2802(B). In 2012, the Arizona Legislature added another location by enacting a statute under which "a person, including [a qualified AMMA cardholder], may not lawfully possess or use marijuana on the campus of any public university, college, community college or postsecondary educational institution." A.R.S. § 15-108(A). Because that statute violates Arizona's Voter Protection Act ("VPA") with respect to AMMA-compliant marijuana possession or use, we hold it unconstitutional as applied to the university student/cardholder in this case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In March 2014, an Arizona State University police officer arrested Andre Lee Juwaun Maestas after the officer observed Maestas sitting in a road near Maestas's dormitory on the university campus. The officer searched Maestas and found a valid AMMA registry identification card in Maestas's wallet. After Maestas admitted that he had marijuana in his dorm room, the officer obtained a search warrant, searched Maestas's dorm room, and found two envelopes containing 0.4 grams of marijuana. (The AMMA provides that an "[a]llowable amount of marijuana" is "[t]wo-and-one-half ounces of usable marijuana." A.R.S. § 36-2801(1)(a)(i). Maestas's 0.4 grams of marijuana is roughly equivalent to 0.014 ounces.)

         ¶3 The State charged Maestas with obstructing a public thoroughfare and possession of marijuana. Before trial, Maestas moved to dismiss the marijuana-possession charge, arguing that his possession was AMMA-compliant and he was therefore immune from prosecution under § 36-2811(B). The State opposed the motion, arguing that Maestas's AMMA-compliant possession of marijuana was nevertheless unlawful under § 15-108(A), which prohibits even AMMA cardholders from possessing marijuana on public college and university campuses. The superior court denied Maestas's motion, convicted him on both counts after a bench trial, imposed a fine on the marijuana-possession charge, and placed him on probation for one year.

         ¶4 The court of appeals vacated Maestas's conviction for possession of marijuana and held that § 15-108(A) is unconstitutional under the VPA. State v. Maestas, 242 Ariz. 194, 198 ¶ 16 (App. 2017). As a threshold matter, the court ruled that the constitutionality of § 15-108(A) is a justiciable question because the political question doctrine is inapplicable here. Id. at 196-97 ¶¶ 9-10. On the merits, the court reasoned that the VPA's requirements apply to § 15-108(A) because the statute amends the AMMA by re-criminalizing AMMA "cardholders' marijuana possession on college and university campuses." Id. at 197 ¶¶ 12-13. The court further concluded that § 15-108(A) violates the VPA because the AMMA's purpose is to protect AMMA "cardholders from criminal and other penalties, " id. at 196 ¶ 8, and § 15-108(A) does not further that purpose but rather "eliminates some of [the AMMA's] protections, " id. at 197 ¶ 13.

         ¶5 We granted review because § 15-108(A)'s validity presents a recurring legal question of statewide importance. We have jurisdiction under article 6, section 5(3), of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 12-120.24.


         ¶ 6 We review the constitutionality of a statute de novo. Biggs v. Betlach, 243 Ariz. 256, 258 ¶ 9 (2017). "When the statute in question involves no fundamental constitutional rights or distinctions based on suspect classifications, we presume the statute is constitutional and will uphold it unless it clearly is not." Cave Creek Unified Sch. Dist. v. Ducey, 233 Ariz. 1, 5 ¶ 11 (2013).

         ¶7 The State first contends that the constitutionality of ยง 15-108(A) under the VPA is a non-justiciable political question because the AMMA "authorizes universities to restrict and penalize cardholders to protect federal funding, and the ...

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